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Air Force medics provide care aboard Navy hospital ship

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kerry Jackson
  • 12th Air Force and Air Forces Southern Public Affairs
A team of more than 60 Air Force medics is in South America participating in a four-month joint Medical Readiness Training Exercise aboard the USNS Comfort hospital ship.

The medical team, along with Latin American and Caribbean health officials, is providing free medical treatment to underserved citizens who live in cities along the Central, South America and Caribbean coast.

"We are here to provide hands on care for the people of Latin America and the Caribbean while sending a strong message of compassion and caring," said Lt. Col. Melanie Truesdell, the Air National Guard officer in charge. "I feel this mission will provide a lasting footprint in each nation we (visit) during this deployment."

To date, USNS Comfort's medical and veterinarian staff has conducted 510 surgeries, 18,110 dental procedures, dispensed 53,022 pharmaceuticals, issued 10,735 eyeglasses and treated 6,467 animals.

Medical treatment is being provided in dentistry, dermatology, internal medicine, optometry and pediatrics. The team's goal is to provide the highest quality of care for each patient, based on the availability of services, the colonel said.

"Additionally, we encourage each (member on the medical team) to strive and grow in their knowledge of healthcare outside the United States of America," the colonel said. "This mission will give us that opportunity."

This MEDRETE was a first for Tech Sgt. Scott L. Hauck, a medical technician from 141st Medical Group in Spokane, Wash.

"It's been a great learning experience. I'd like to think that we've made an impact and that we've represented the Air Force well. 'One team, one fight' is something you hear a lot of in the Air Force regarding active-duty, Guard and Reserve all working together. I think (the Air Force medical team) working alongside our Navy, makes the statement so much more true with what we're doing right here. My whole goal by the end of this trip is to be able to say that this is my ship and that everyone aboard regardless of service is my shipmate."

The U.S. medical ship was not the only thing people from the region were amazed with.

"I like the ship, but what I like most about it is the people," said Paula Padilla, a mother from Nicaragua whose son was treated by the medical team. "They are loving and caring. It's good to know there are people that care about other countries and are willing to help."

Along with providing valuable joint training for servicemembers and much needed medical attention in the region, this deployment serves to further demonstrate U.S. Southern Command's commitment to regional partnerships, Colonel Truesdell said. The medical readiness training exercise serves as an important part of the U.S. military's humanitarian and civic assistance program in Central and South America.

The USNS Comfort, capable of rapidly responding to a range of situations on short notice, is uniquely designed to provide health service support. The ship will serve as the training and treatment hub for the medical team, who will treat a select number of patients on board the ship, while the majority of the treatment will be provided ashore.

During the four-month exercise, the USNS Comfort is scheduled to make port call stops in Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The medical exercise enhances the image of the United States across the globe, as it gives medical people the opportunity to have a positive, personal impact on the lives of thousands of individuals each year.

The MEDRETEs are only one group of events in a broad range of activities that U.S. Southern Command officials carry out in its area of responsibility in Central, South America and the Caribbean. SOUTHCOM sponsors approximately 70 MEDRETEs per year. Twelfth Air Force and Air Forces Southern, the air and space component to SOUTHCOM, plans and executes about 30 of these MEDRETEs.